This Is “-Ussy”: On Mainstream Culture’s Embrace of Queer Language

Choosing the word of the year must be like choosing your favorite mayonnaise for anyone who doesn’t really work in writing or fields centered around language. For those of us that do work in those fields, it’s a snapshot of the current cultural moment, a window into what was important to us in a year. For 2022, the American Dialect Society has chosen the suffix “-ussy” as the word of the year.

“-ussy” as in:

Of course -ussy comes from pussy, but we weren’t really ussifying anything until the word bussy stepped onto the scene. That’s when people, mainly queer people, started saying things like “Ethel put her whole Cainussy into Ptolemaea!!!”

(Can you tell I’ma new Ethel Cain fan?!)

What this demonstrates to me is the power queer people have to move the culture. Like we got Beyonce saying “cunty” on an album. That’s power.

The official press release for the decision reads:

“For more on the -ussy phenomenon, see the Vulture article by Bethy Squires, ‘We Asked Linguists Why People Are Adding -Ussy to Every Word’: ‘Riffing off ‘bussy’ (a portmanteau of ‘boy’ and ‘pussy’), now everything is a cat or a cavity. A calzone is a pizzussy. A wine bottle has a winussy.’ See also Michael Dow’s scholarly paper, ‘A corpus study of phonological factors in novel English blends.’”

It’s funny, I think when most people think of linguists, they think of very serious and stodgy men, but this also demonstrates that the field is highly dependent on pop culture and what otherwise young and cool people are talking about.

There are so many great examples of -ussy in action, but of course, Twitter is now flooded with people talking about this decision, making it almost impossible to find them. I searched the Vulture article referenced for some good ones but was shocked by the author’s assertion that this phenomenon is annoying.

On the contrary, I find it pretty delightful! There isn’t much about language popularized by queer people that I find annoying. As a general rule, we kind of move the needle on what’s hot and what isn’t, what’s fun and what isn’t. LGBTQ people coming up with ways to describe how their favorite middle-aged actress or fresh-faced pop singer is shitting on the competition is endlessly funny to me.

I love language, I love watching memes form, ussification comes alongside another popular meme of gays saying things like:

“Keyshia Cole had one chance, the lights were off, rent was due” and then posting a clip from a song released in 2008.

I’m going to keep hammering home how funny I think this is, but there’s also a side I worry about.

We’ve seen with AAVE that language by and from a specific group can easily be co-opted by the culture at large. One thing I always think about is how “fuck around and find out” was Black vernacular for a long time and now there are a million examples of white people using it without that knowledge. So much AAVE gets swallowed and recategorized as “Gen Z language” and I worry the same could happen with queer vernacular, or more accurately, already has.

When straight people do use language popularized by LGBTQ people, it is often in a mocking tone. But even that spirit of degradation can turn into sincerity real quick.

Think about how sayings like “yass queen” and “slay” have been taken over by straight white women and embroidered on pillows and tote bags. Those phrases started in Black queer culture and again, got swallowed up by the world at large. Like I said, starting as a joke and then becoming sincere, girl-bossy platitudes.

Whiteness comes for everything you love eventually, and ruins it. Maybe straight people are already using -ussy behind my back like the sneaky little imps they are. I just want shit to stay queer, to stay ours.

Basically, I worry that people will forget where shit comes from, y’know?

Frankly, I don’t think most straight people have the wit to make -ussy funny and campy the way we have. So maybe I have nothing to worry about. For now, I’m laughing my ass off at how people are using -ussy these days, truly giggling like a schoolgirl over it. Hopefully, it never ends!


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danijanae

Dani Janae is a poet and writer based out of Pittsburgh, PA. When she's not writing love poems for unavailable women, she's watching horror movies, hanging with her tarantula, and eating figs. Follow Dani Janae on Twitter and on Instagram.

danijanae has written 138 articles for us.

9 Comments

  1. Absolutely adored this article! It is so frustrating when things get outside the community and get mis or over used. I’ve seen so many queer folks make some brilliant and egregiously hilarious use of “-ussy”, so I really appreciate the history on it!

  2. Very much agree. But I take quite a bit of solace in knowing that the language is almost never used correctly. This is the trap of reading things online without being in community with the people who create the the language. AAVE isn’t right unless it sounds right!

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